As President Obama and his advisors debate future troop levels for Afghanistan, a new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) muddies the
water on one of the most important issues in the debate — the effects of Afghanistan's drug production.
The report, entitled "Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium," gives the false impression that the Taliban are
the main culprits behind Afghanistan's skyrocketing drug production. It also implies that drugs are the main reason why the Taliban are gaining in
strength, absolving the United States and NATO of their own responsibility in fomenting the insurgency.
In fact, the United States and their Afghan allies bear a large share of responsibility for the drug industry's dramatic expansion since the
invasion. Buried deep in the report, its authors admit that reduced levels of drug production would have little effect on the insurgency's vigor.
UNODC states that a decade ago the Taliban earned $85 million per year from drugs, but that since 2005 this figure has jumped to $125 million. The
report estimates that only 10-15% of Taliban funding is drawn from drugs and 85% comes from "nonopium sources."
The total revenue generated by opiates within Afghanistan is about $3.4 billion per year. Of this figure, according to UNODC, the Taliban get only 4%
of the sum. Farmers, meanwhile, get 21%.
The remaining 75% is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers — in short, many of the groups
now supported (or tolerated) by the United States and NATO are important actors in the drug trade.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments
from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.
Impunity for drug lords and warlords continues: a U.S. Senate report noted in August that no major traffickers have been arrested in Afghanistan since
2006, and that successful prosecutions of significant traffickers are often overturned by a simple bribe or protection from above, revealing
counternarcotics efforts to be deficient at best.
The report says that over the last seven years (2002-2008), the transnational trade in Afghan opiates resulted in worldwide sales of $400-$500 billion
(retail value). Only 5-10% of this is estimated to be laundered by informal banking systems (such as hawala). The remainder is laundered through the
legal economy, and importantly, through Western banks.
In fact, Antonio Maria Costa was quoted as saying that drug money may have recently rescued some failing banks: "interbank loans were funded by money
that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities," and there were "signs that some banks were rescued in that way." "At a time of
major bank failures, money doesn't smell, bankers seem to believe," he wrote in UNODC's 2009 World Drug Report.
Not the sort of news they like to put on the T.V is it?